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The advantage of today’s youth

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Graduation into a world of complex at times grave contentions, difficulties relating to racial and cultural identities, political, ideologies and interpersonal conflicts is more than challenging. Young people, though, exposed to each other in their wonderful variedness and capacity for taking life and its complexity on with a calm that amazes older folk like this columnist, they have the capacity to triumph over what are really absurdities and dysfunctional behaviours which have taken control of our lives.

These are young people who can turn the tide of racial intolerance back; they can say to our generation which grew to adulthood in the turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s that we recognise the wars that you fought against bigotry, greed and self serving accumulation and so we need to inch the ball forward; we need to conquer what you set your mind to but could not fully in your generation accomplish. 

The above is exactly the challenge posed to the 500 graduands of Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, USA, by Rev James Morris Lawson Jr. 

The 80-year-old plus civil rights leader, one of the seven icons of the movement identified so by Time Magazine, and one who was named back then by Dr Martin Luther-King Jr (1960s) “as the leading theorist strategist of nonviolence in the world,” urged the young graduates to go past the non-essentials of our physical forms and consider our common humanity.

It would be difficult to find someone today more qualified to speak of his experiences as a discriminated against black man; he knows of what he speaks. He was jailed because he refused to be drafted into the Korean War. 

He was expelled from the Vanderbilt Divinity School for preaching and teaching on the non-violence of Gandhi; but 30 years later Vanderbilt, in what was in effect an act of contrition for its sins, invited Rev Lawson to become a visiting distinguished professor and gave a chair in his name.

So here was this man who had felt the sharpest pains of being defiled and defined as being less than human placing in front the young graduates, the vast majority white, the challenge of being human and recognising the humanity in all those around them irrespective of how they look, sound and seem.

He who knows that it has been institutionalised in this society that the Founding Fathers in writing the Constitution and Bill of Rights could not possibly have seriously meant that “all men are created equal...” is perhaps best positioned to say that our continuing move towards humanity depends on the graduates of Trinity and elsewhere, and future generations moving towards this greater humanity that is achievable, if only we try. 

But if we amongst the black parents, perhaps feeling a bit self-conscious not wanting to offend the white establishment, grateful that our children had been afforded the opportunity for a tertiary-level education, financial support, love and special attention of this university community, if we were cautious about Rev Lawson’s attempt to conscientise the children of the Pilgrim Fathers, we could not anticipate that a college president of a white, New England university would say that she was four generations removed from slavery. 

Moreover, that she would sprinkle lyrics around typical of a sister who had mounted a civil rights platform in the heady and daring days of the 1960s.

Those of us from the Caribbean who never experienced the full crush of slavery must have felt less than comfortable with what some would consider the full-blown rousing in this arena. 

But on reflection, it may just have been that having not walked in the moccasins of the Red Indian, another discriminated against human, perhaps even more so in this his native land, we from the Caribbean who flinched when black college president Professor Joanne Berger-Sweeney took aim against discrimination, could never really appreciate the pain of the black American.

It surely is not within our portfolio to draw conclusions.

There is incidentally, a cultural connection between the Trinity of Hartford and the Trinity of Trinidad and Tobago; they have come to share in the Carnival, the calypso, the steelpan, the food. If the college offers resources and opportunities, the Trinity of T&T provides high calibre students; moreover, students with a humanity and disposition that are not easily experienced in a society that is still struggling with the concept of equality and humanity, the point Rev Lawson went out of his way to make.

May the next batch of West Indian students contribute to the greater humanity of Hartford and American society.

Incidentally, the statement from Mrs Joan Honore-Paul is also about speaking truth to authority, the Prime Minister. 

It is not being afraid of office holders when there is a greater national good to be served. 

One contention is that the Deputy DPP went too far. Maybe. But Honore-Paul informed the public that there are other issues involved; including T&T’s international agreements.


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